The Gospel Begins With Compassion

It is always intriguing to read verses that give us a glimpse into the heart of Jesus. Matthew 9:36 is one of those verses which says, “When (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

The word compassion is not a casual word. It is a word that expresses deep care and concern for someone else. It is a word that means you come into somebody else’s suffering and take on their hurt and their pain so that they do not have to carry it alone.

It is a word that requires us to be selfless and sacrificial. Two things that are not easy to do especially if we are dealing with our own struggles.

It is the compassionate of Jesus that compelled him to preach the Kingdom of God. It is the compassion of Jesus that compelled him to heal the sick. It is the compassion of Jesus that compelled him to lay down his life on a cross. Compassion requires sacrifice but compassion is what compels us to sacrifice.

In Philippians 2, we are given the example of the humility of Christ. And the example begins with these words: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

Compassion looks to the interest of others. Compassion is an outward attitude that places my heart and mind on the needs of others. And the greatest need that others have is to be in a relationship with Jesus.

But the challenge of compassion is that it is not easy to sacrificially consider the interests of others. Compassion comes easier when it is directed towards those we know and love. It is easier to have compassion for our kids than the kids down the street. It is easier to have compassion for our friends, than the stranger beside the road. And I think the reason is we are invested in the ones we love. When we invest in them we are investing in ourselves.

If I invest in the stranger, what benefit is that to me?

And yet when Jesus saw the “crowds” he had compassion on them. These were people who were not family members of close friends. From a human perspective, they were strangers. But from God’s perspective, these were very personal relationships. Each one of these individuals (men, women, children) were unique and special people whom God knitted together in their mothers wombs and who were created in the image of God.

These were the very ones that God so loved that sent his one and one son into this world.

And like a parent urgently looking for a lost child, Jesus came into this world to seek and to save those that were lost. And so when Jesus saw the crowd, he saw people he created, people he loved who were lost. He saw his own creation not living out the purpose for which they were created–to know and find their delight and satisfaction in the One who created them.

But when Jesus saw the crowds he did not see men and women and children whose souls were satisified in God but helpless people looking and searching for someone or something to give them satisfaction and fulfillment. And what made the situation even worse is that the very leaders of Israel who were supposed to be shepherding them to know life in God were actually moving them away from God. The religious leaders were placing on them the burden of having to try and earn their salvation instead of the joy of walking by faith in the Lord their God.

Jesus saw their pain and burdens and he entered into their pain to heal them of their pain. And he didn’t even wait for them to recognize that they needed help or rescue. In fact, many of the crowd resisted the help of Jesus. They didn’t want to be rescued from the pain. They delighted in their sin and disobedience.

And yet the compassion of Jesus compelled Him to into their suffering for their sake.

Many parents know the pain of reaching out to a wayward child who is in deep despair and the child does not want to be rescued. Nothing brings more hurt to the heart of a parent than seeing their own child not only resist help but actually develop resentment even hatred toward the parent for trying to help.

Romans 5:8 tells us, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

What is significant about that verse is that when we were in rebellion toward God, while we were resisting God, hateful toward God, He had compassion on us. But he didn’t just have compassion hoping we would recognize our need for God. His compassion led him to act. That compassion compelled God to send Jesus into this world and that compassion led Jesus to lay down his life for the very ones who wanted to kill him and get rid of him.

That is what compassion does.

And so in verse 36, we get a glimpse into the very heart of God. God has compassion toward humanity. God loves this world. He loves his creation. He intimately knows us and wants us to be in a right relationship with Him through His son Jesus Christ. And that loved compelled Him to not even hold back his own Son but to give Him up for us.

That is what compassion does.

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